Vitality

Your Low-Fat Diet Isn't Helping You Lose Weight Or Keep It Off Long-Term: Study

low-fat
Some aspects of a low-fat diet — such as the focus on healthy fruits and vegetables — are good, but mixing that up with a diet that's higher in fat and lower in carbs would prove even more successful, a new study suggests. CC BY 2.0

Scouring the grocery store for low-fat yogurts, dairy, or diet sodas doesn’t provide the weight loss benefits we’ve all believed for so long, according to new research. The study, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, completed a meta-analysis on several randomized trials, which involved a review of over 68,000 adults. The results showed there was no greater long-term weight loss among people who were on low-fat diets compared to those who were on higher-fat diets, like the Mediterranean or a low-carb diet.

“There is no good evidence for recommending low-fat diets,” Dr. Deirdre Tobias of the Brigham and Woman’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, lead author of the study, said in the press release. “Behind current dietary advice to cut out the fat, which contains more than twice the calories per gram of carbohydrates and protein, the thinking is that simply reducing fat intake will naturally lead to weight loss. But our robust evidence clearly suggests otherwise.”

In the meta-analysis, the researchers compared low-fat diets to other types of diets to see how they all improved (or didn’t improve) weight loss within a year among non-pregnant adults. They found that there was no difference in the average weight loss between low-fat diets and higher-fat diets, and in fact low-carbohydrate diets were the most successful.

They conclude that the best way to tackle the obesity epidemic isn’t a black and white solution. Being healthy doesn’t mean taking all the fat away from your food intake, but rather focusing on well-rounded, healthier nutrition selections like the Mediterranean diet (much of which can be high in fat).

“The science does not support low-fat diets as the optimal long-term weight loss strategy,” Tobias said in the press release. “To effectively address the obesity epidemic, we will need more research to identify better approaches for long-term weight loss and weight maintenance, including the need to look beyond differences in macronutrient composition — the proportion of calories that come from fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Long-term adherence is critical for the success of any dietary intervention, and one should also take into account other long-term health effects of their dietary choices.”

Much has been examined and written about the Mediterranean diet — an example of a relatively low-carb, higher-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet may contain fats (like olive oil or fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, or albacore tuna), but they’re healthy fats, providing your body with essential omega-3 fatty acids. Other high-fat foods include avocados, dark chocolate, and nuts — all of which contain an array of vitamins and minerals and have shown to be effective in lowering the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic disorders.

The Mediterranean diet does contain carbs, but they are mostly whole grain — the good kind of carbs. So instead of cutting down on fat and consuming high-sugar, low-calorie foods, enrich your diet with low-carb, higher-fat foods like the olive oils, fish, vegetables, and legumes of the Mediterranean diet.

Source: Tobias D, Chen M, Manson J, Ludwig D, Willett W, Hu F. Effect of low-fat diet interventions versus other diet interventions on long-term weight change in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2015.

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